Steven Hentges, Ph.D
Thursday, September 13, 2018
BPA

The title of a recent press release on a new study sounds ominously important: “BPA replacements in plastics cause reproductive problems in lab mice.” Reading further, the press release refers to “the array of alternative bisphenols now used to replace BPA,” and the new study states that “[r]eplacement bisphenols have rapidly emerged in consumer products.”

But is it true that BPA has been replaced in consumer products by alternative bisphenols, or is this just more fake news? Although the study was published in a scientific journal, little hard evidence is provided to substantiate the claim.

The lack of supporting evidence isn’t surprising since there is no basis in fact to say that BPA has been replaced by other bisphenols. More importantly, there is little reason to consider replacing BPA at all, whether by other bisphenols or anything else.

Many factors are considered by manufacturers in selecting materials to make their products. For BPA, the two factors that rise to the top are safety and performance, and it would be an almost insurmountable challenge to find anything that beats BPA on these counts.

Most BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Both are high-performing materials that have been widely used for decades in a wide array of consumer and industrial products.

Polycarbonate plastic is clear like glass, yet lightweight and highly shatter-resistant. Its virtually unique set of attributes accounts for its use in products ranging from automobiles to cell phones, sports safety equipment, medical devices, and much more. Whether you know it or not, you use it every day.

Epoxy resins have an outstanding combination of toughness, chemical resistance and high adhesion, which makes them well suited to a wide range of protective coating applications. More recently, they are increasingly used in high-strength/light weight composites that you’ll find in wind turbine rotor blades and in the fuselage and wing structures of modern aircraft.

Safety is as important as performance, and here BPA also excels with a 50+ year safety track record. The safety of BPA has been repeatedly confirmed by government agencies worldwide, even for sensitive applications involving contact with food. As succinctly summarized by FDA on its website: “Is BPA safe? – Yes.”

But there’s more, and it’s the real news that’s happening now – the CLARITY Core Study. Designed with unprecedented scope and magnitude, the CLARITY study was conducted by FDA senior scientists to resolve remaining uncertainties about the safety of BPA.

The results of the CLARITY study were released earlier this year in the form of a draft report. In a statement released at that time, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted: “our initial review supports our determination that currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers.” Since then, the CLARITY study has been peer reviewed by a panel of independent scientists and the final report is expected to be released in the very near future.

Although the newly published study and press release on alternatives to BPA missed the mark, it did get one thing right. The authors point out that “BPA-free is a valuable marketing tool, and most consumers interpret this label as an indication of a safer product.”

Indeed it is a marketing tool, and the label itself may be “fake news” for consumers as it has nothing to do with safety. BPA-free products may not contain BPA, but that doesn’t make them safe.